Agility and discipline

Jeff Bezos once said “The only sustainable advantage you can have over others is agility, that’s it. Because nothing else is sustainable, everything else you create, somebody else will replicate.”

That is why he is the richest man in the world because he and his companies are agile in all aspects – detecting opportunities earlier that others and acting on them quickly.

Being agile has become the mantra of many organizations who want to innovate and pursue digital transformation. We always hear in business conferences and public fora the need to be agile.

Speakers from global companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google trumpet their agile practices, while business executives nod and cheer in agreement.

Agility is the ability to understand, learn, think, act, and move quickly and easily. When it comes to business, there are four levels of agility that companies need to develop – individual agility, team agility, organizational agility, and leadership agility.

Individual agility enables an individual employee to unlearn and learn, explore, expose, adapt to changing situations, and work on mission-critical projects. When agile individual employees work together for a common goal, they become agile teams. A team is agile when team members work and organize their individual functions to be responsive and adaptive to the changing demands of the company.

Since agility is thinking, learning, and acting quickly, its catchphrase is ‘fail fast, iterate, learn from it, and do it again’. These have resulted in innovations across many organizations that adopted its philosophy.

But with today’s global crisis, failing by trying and doing is not a luxury that many companies have. The global economic slowdown has put a clamp on budgets, directing business units to become more efficient.

Hence, apart from agility to adapt to changing consumer needs and shift business models due to the pandemic, one practice is equally important today, and that is discipline.

Discipline is the practice of self-restraint and learning to follow the best course of action which is based on standards. It is practiced on the individual, team, and organizational levels, like agility. It entails practicing and following methodologies in planning, working, learning, operating, and serving customers in order to eliminate wastage and inefficiencies.

Discipline is not the opposite of agility, but a complement of it. For example, in learning agility, the process of quickly learning need not be a practice of ‘learning from failures’ but instead can be a disciplined process of actively conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/ evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, and reasoning. In our consulting practice, we enable organizations to acquire this capability through workshops we run, called ‘innovative thinking’.

One of our clients, which practices agile philosophies in technology development and innovation, is also enabling their employees to learn and practice lean methodology – a way of optimizing the people, resources, effort, and energy of an organization toward creating value for the customer. While they practice innovation with agility, they also use standards and methodologies to gain efficiencies through continuous improvement.

Agility and discipline are twin principles in today’s business environment. Organizations that adopt and practice both agility and discipline can thrive, survive, and progress during and after the global pandemic.


The author is CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is Fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation.the Country Representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia (ICTPA). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at